White Sands National Monument

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

Truth be told, White Sands was one of the places I was most looking forward to visiting when we came up with this crazy idea to travel so extensively with a two-year old.  Although we were not able to camp in the monument, our visit did not disappoint.  I was so looking forward to camping on the white sand, but the monument only has limited back country camping.  We were a little puzzled as to why we were not able to camp there.  Once we arrived, it all made much more sense.  I guess the Federal Government prefers that family campers don’t set up camp in the middle of an active missile range.  I knew that the monument was near a missile range, but I did not realize that it was smack dab in the middle of the missile range.  In fact, the monument and the main highway leading to it had been closed earlier in the week when testing activities were being conducted.  My understanding is that this can be a weekly occurrence.

Lucky for us, the only activity we were caught in the middle of was yet another immigration checkpoint, well inside the borders of our country.  We were waved through once we told them we were on our way to White Sands, but we couldn’t help but think of all the folks doing exactly what we were doing who would have to stop and answer many more questions simply because of the color of their skin.

Our first stop at White Sands was the visitor’s center.  Van ran in with his passport in hand, eager to collect yet another stamp.  I picked up his junior ranger’s packet and off we went, ready to explore the park for the day.

Van working on his junior ranger packet

Van working on his junior ranger packet

We all had a great time running around the surprisingly cool sand.  Unlike the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, this sand is made of gypsum and is very cool to the touch.  Bare feet for the win!

The best part of the day was watching Van examine all the crystalline-like sand structures and spotting tracks of various small critters.

Our long and fun day at White Sands was capped off with our very last night of tent camping on the trip.  We drove to nearby Alamogordo and slept at a local campground, but given the low evening temperatures (it had been dipping into the 20s), we decided to finish out our stay in New Mexico at rustic cabins, local motels, and two lovely nights at the home of friends in Albuquerque.  Though it was sad to pack up our tent and realize that it would be staying in the car for the foreseeable future (and has since been replaced), sleeping in the relative warmth of an uninsulated cabin was heaven.

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What Do Truth or Consequences, a Veterans’ Home, and a Classic Car Show Have in Common?

You may think that because my posting hiatus began while I was posting about our time in New Mexico that I was not a huge fan of the state.  That couldn’t be further from the truth.  We loved so many things about New Mexico, chiefly the food, the people, and the gorgeous landscapes.

After leaving Silver City,we took a circuitous route to Las Cruces so that we could check out the interestingly named, Truth or Consequences.  For those not familiar with the history of how the town received its unique moniker, the town of Hot Springs renamed itself in response to a marketing ploy by the game show, Truth or Consequences.  Given its location, I was expecting a sleepy little town.  Instead of just a quick trip through the decidedly awake town, we stayed for the day and took part in the local (and very popular) car show at the local VA home.  My vote went to a sublime cherry red pickup from days long ago (surprise, surprise), while Van was very attracted to the many, many Mustangs.

We eventually pried ourselves away from the festivities and headed south to one of the nicest places we stayed on this trip, a Days Inn in Las Cruces.  As we pulled up to the hotel, Van started pointing and saying “Idaho, Idaho.”  We went back through our memory banks and realized that we had only stayed at one Days Inn on this trip before Las Cruces.  And it was, in fact, in Idaho.  Twin Falls, to be exact.  What a memory this kid has!

We spent one full day in Las Cruces soaking up all the culture we could at the excellent New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.  If you’re ever down in Las Cruces, it’s a must see.  Highlights included a private demonstration of separating milk from cream, watching the process of making a nail from start to finish, a history of New Mexico license plates, and a stunning photography exhibit on Pie Town.  The two most interesting facts I learned that day?  That the state actually had to add USA to its license plate at one point because too many people in the rest of the US didn’t realize that New Mexico is actually part of the US.  Write this down as reason number 56,323 that travel is important.  And secondly, that nails were so valuable before mass production that some settlers would burn down their houses before moving so that they could take the nails with them.  After seeing the process of making just one nail, I have a much greater appreciation for the many modern conveniences that allow most Americans (ourselves and just about everyone we know included) to lead such luxurious lives.

Las Cruces Farm and Ranch Museum

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum,   Las Cruces

Enchanted Already: Our First Few Days in New Mexico

On the High Road from Silver City to Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico

On the High Road from Silver City to Gila Cliff Dwellings in New Mexico

What seems like ages ago now, we rolled into New Mexico after our week in Arizona.  We took a circuitous route, heading southeast from Tucson instead of east.  We drove through Tombstone, opting not to stop in the overly touristy town, and instead headed further south to the arty (and super cute) mining town of Bisbee and the border town, Douglas.  We passed numerous Border Patrol vehicles and one checkpoint for cars heading the other direction a fair distance from the border.  The highlight of our route was the gorgeous western scenery we drove through when we took much smaller roads northeast from the border towards New Mexico.  We were one of the only non-pick-ups on the road, over half of which were marked Border Patrol vehicles.  To say there was surveillance going on would be an understatement.  In addition to the numerous trucks out on patrol, there were a number of small buttes that we passed on which a truck was parked next to portable surveillance equipment.  The area was beautiful, but we could never escape the feeling of being watched at all times, even when there were no homes, cars, or people for miles around.

Our first stop in New Mexico was in Silver City.  This was one of the places I was most looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint.  We kicked off our New Mexico culinary tour with some of the best sauces ever (red and green enchilada sauce and red and green chile sauce) at The Jalisco Cafe.  We weren’t sure which sauces we wanted, so they brought us generous cups of each of the four sauces to enjoy.  We were in heaven!  Besides getting our feet wet with some New Mexican cuisine and chatting up a fellow camper with a homemade camper trailer rigged up on a flatbed trailer with blue tarps, pvc pipe, a heater, and a tv, we spent a day each at Gila Cliff Dwellings and City of Rocks State Park.

Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico

Gila Cliff Dwellings, New Mexico

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexcio

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

New Mexico!!

New Mexico!!

The drive from Silver City to Gila (pronounced Hee-La) Cliff Dwellings National Park is best done during daylight in mild weather.  It’s narrow and windy with crazy gorgeous views of mountain forests.  One of the most magnificent roads we traveled, it reminded us of being back in southern Colorado, which given its location, shouldn’t be all that surprising.  Once we arrived at Gila Cliff Dwellings, we were treated to a stunning hike through a canyon to reach the legendary dwellings.  The scent of water was in the air and leafy trees provided shade.  We hadn’t experienced this in quite a while!  When we reached the dwellings, we joined in on a tour that was being filmed for training purposes.  Now future park rangers and volunteers can see our shining faces peering into the cliff-side homes.

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings

View from Inside

View from Inside

Notice the soot-darkened roof of the cave, blackened from decades of fires from the ancient inhabitants.

Evidence of Ancient Fires

Evidence of Ancient Fires

We were also able to spy a number of dramatic petroglyphs and pictographs in the main dwellings as well as in other areas of the park.

Pictograph on the Rocks in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Park

Pictograph on the Rocks in Gila Cliff Dwellings National Park

The homes, like many other ancient sites, had been the target of looting and damage in the past.  The park service has done quite a bit to shore up the structures, even rebuilding a few before that was frowned upon.  There are now very sensible rules in place to help ensure that visitors don’t further damage the structures.  We were disappointed to see a couple of long-distance backpackers balk at the rules and speak condescendingly to a park ranger, but I reminded myself that it was the first time we’d seen such disrespect on our trip.  And we were extra nice to the ranger to try to make up for the difficult visitors that came after us.

While we were visiting the park, all three of us worked on ranger packets.  Van worked on his special junior ranger packet geared towards pre-schoolers (the first park we’ve visited that had curriculum specifically geared to this age group) and Alan and I worked on a senior ranger packet (also the first park we visited that had this sort of curriculum).  We were really impressed with the program and were happy to walk away with an enhanced understanding of the park along with patches, and a badge for Van, that certified our achievement.

Junior Ranger Van

Junior Ranger Van

After a chilly night in the tent, we spent the next day clambering around the boulders in City of Rocks State Park.  The landscape we drove through to reach the park provided no clue that anything like this would even exist in the area.  But then, out of nowhere, stood what can only be called a city of rocks.  They are a jumbled mass of very large boulders in an otherwise flat desert-like area.  In addition to the rocks and some fantastic camping spots, the park is known for its stargazing parties.  We were there during the day, however, so we stuck to exploring and climbing up and around the rocks.

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

City of Rocks State Park, New Mexico

I could see how this place would be an absolute ideal place to explore with older kids who could spend hours (or maybe days) just climbing all over the rocks.  Though we enjoyed the rocks, the mighty large grasshoppers were quite the draw.

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"Can I touch it?  Please, please!"

“Can I touch it? Please, please!”

Especially the mating ones…

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Enjoy a few final photos of our time in City of Rocks and the views of the beautiful New Mexico horizon.

Lessons Learned v.5

It’s getting colder, and our thoughts turn from where to travel next to where we’d like to live.  As we run through the possibilities and all of the pros and cons, I’m getting a much better sense of my priorities.  Between that, and the thoughts that come as we approach a transition in our life on the road, the lessons are coming hard and fast.  Here’s my latest installment of lessons learned.

1. I do not want to live in a home that is part of a Homeowner’s Association.  In certain areas, this eliminates large portions of housing.  So be it.  I don’t want anyone telling me I must have a two car garage, can’t hang my laundry out, can’t paint my house pink and purple, can’t have chickens or bees or goats or llamas or pet tigers (ok, maybe it’s ok if they tell me I can’t have a pet tiger).  Nor do I want my neighbors to be so constrained.  I understand that this opens me up to more “risk” of my neighbors opening a junkyard next door.  Oh well.  Homeowner’s Associations are great for some people, just not me.  I’m glad I’m fully aware of this before buying a house in an HOA.

2. It is easy to travel far and wide and still only associate with a certain type of people, eat in certain types of restaurants, and stay in certain types of places.  I think it is more important to travel half an hour away to a place with people very unlike you and your cohorts than to travel halfway around the world to associate with similar types in a slightly different cultural context.  Some of the worldliest people never hop onto a plane, but instead fully immerse themselves in all the worlds around them.  After traveling to so many places but never staying in one place for very long on this journey, I’m looking forward to getting to know a new place in depth.  And not just the parts of that place that immediately appeal to me, but all the parts I may first overlook or turn away from.

3. Fall feels like home.  Fall is my favorite season.  Fall is Alan’s favorite season.  What is the one season we missed this year?  Fall.  In order to attempt to outrun cold nights in the tent, we missed this most magical and cozy of seasons.  I hope that this is the very last fall we ever miss.  I’m not sure winter will feel the same without having been welcomed by the golden hues and smokey, sweet, crisp air of autumn.

4. When the choice is more land or more house, I will (almost) always choose more land.  I don’t need a big house, but I want to be able to see lots of green from my window.  I also don’t need a lot of land, but nine times out of ten, more land will satisfy me better than more house.  For me, a house is really just a place to take a break from the sun, the wind, the rain, and the snow.  Oh, and a place to curl up in front of a fire with a good book.  Can’t forget that!

5. You can’t have it all.  Certainly not at once.  This is fine, but it’s a myth that gets perpetuated for young people, especially young women.  When we finally realize that we can’t have it all (if we ever believed that to begin with), the truth can sting a bit.  I already knew this, but when you begin to prioritize all your goals, it crystallizes this truth in a new way.

6. Having a place that feels like home is almost as important as having a place to call home.  I’ve had many places to call home in my life, but only some of them actually felt like home.  I spent the past two years in a very nice town home in the suburbs.  It was clean, safe, and nice, but it never actually felt like home.  I realize that I put off so many things that I would have done had the place felt like home.  I never felt invested in the place, and in turn, it only served as a place to live and not a true home.  Besides becoming invested in any place I live in the future, I’d also like to prioritize finding a place that feels like home.

7. It’s hard to go wrong with green chile sauce in New Mexico.  Not much I can add to this, except for the fact that I am loving New Mexico, its people, and its delicious (and inexpensive) food.

8. I scare a lot less quickly than I did eight short months ago.  There are so many ways I could illustrate this, but I’ll stick with one.  Coyotes.  I like coyotes.  They’ve never scared me and I’ve found their cries hauntingly beautiful.  But that didn’t stop me from scrambling out of my tent in Kentucky when they were making a kill very near by.  At that point, we still had our van, which is where the three of us spent the rest of that night.  Fast forward about seven months, and we’ve heard numerous coyotes, but none as close or as constant as when we were camping in Tucson Mountain Park.  There were dozens in the area around us, some near by, some far.  But even when they were howling mere feet from our tent (and even when our semi-crazy camping neighbor joined in with the coyote howls), I felt warm and secure in our tent and enjoyed the evening serenades.  I’ve come a long way, baby!